Fewer firefighters on call in San Jose

July 1, 2011 9:59:37 PM PDT
San Jose's budget can no longer afford to staff every piece of apparatus in its firefighting arsenal, so it's implementing rolling brownouts, which means firefighters won't be replaced when they're out sick or on vacation, and engines will sit idle.

No money for overtime means up to two engines will go out of service per day. On Friday, Engines 9 and 29 were put out of service. Others will be selected on a rotating basis.

In addition, staffing of fire trucks will be reduced from five to four. Engines are usually the first at the scene of fires.

"Our response times are going to be longer," said Robert Sapien, President of the San Jose Firefighters Union. "Our ability to get multiple personnel on-scene of a major incident are going to be diminished, so our ability to mitigate emergencies rapidly has decreased."

This is considered bare-bones staffing after 49 firefighters were laid off and one fire station closed last year. Losing two engines on any day is the limit.

"Our city can't afford to go below two," said San Jose Fire spokesperson Capt. Mary Gutierrez. "This city has a million people. We're already understaffed with the amount of firefighters and fire engines and trucks, so there's no way we're going to go below two."

Tinder dry glass already covers many hills above San Jose's flatlands. Fireworks this upcoming holiday weekend could be the city's first test of reduced fire staffing.

Mayor Chuck Reed, though, is concerned more about medical emergencies.

"Only five percent of the calls are fire calls," Mayor Reed said. "About 80 percent are emergency medical calls, so as we have less equipment and less people, we're going to have some delays on those calls as well."

Reduced firefighter staffing doesn't sit well with some residents. Stacey Dahlberg worries about her personal safety and that of her elderly father who may need to call 9-1-1 at some point.

"I don't actually feel very safe," Dahlberg said. "I've never had a circumstance where I need them, but I would like to know that they can be there when they're called, and it sounds like they may be delayed in timing."

San Jose can also count on mutual aid responses from neighboring fire departments. Unless the city's budget situation improves, brownouts are likely to last for the foreseeable future.


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